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Hiroko Masuire/The New York Times/Redux

Young and restless

Q&A | Rich Lowry always wanted to work for conservatism's flagship magazine, and early on went from intern to correspondent to editor

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," April 24, 2010

The last issue included an interview with Norman Podhoretz, born in 1930, who in 1960, at a phenomenally young age, became editor of the influential magazine Commentary. This issue's interview is with Rich Lowry, born in 1968, who became editor of the influential National Review in 1997: Do the math and his ascent is even more phenomenal. This spring's graduates can learn from Lowry, so here are edited excerpts.

Q: When did you start reading National Review? In high school. I snuck it into class. As you can probably guess, I wasn't a very well-adjusted or popular teenager. Playboy was to most American male teens what National Review was to me. I discovered it through Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan. I think it's very telling about how political psychology works: I saw Bill Buckley on his famous, long-running television program Firing Line, and was blown away by his persona. It was the same thing with Reagan-before I really knew what Reagan believed, I was attracted to him as a figure. I worked my way backwards: What do these people believe? That's how I discovered National Review and that's how I got a political education, seeing what books were referred to.

Q: Did the television show Family Ties and Alex Keaton [the conservative main character who rebelled against liberal parents] influence you? His parents were the humorless ones who had bought into an outdated conformity and conventional wisdom. His rebel stance was very attractive to me. I don't want to exaggerate the orthodoxy of my high school, but all the teachers were liberals, and when I went to college at the University of Virginia the administration and faculty were liberals. As a young person, there's something inherently attractive about sailing against that wind.

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Q: Did you work on your high-school newspaper? I worked on the yearbook. Looking back, what was very valuable was just writing. Every day in high school, I would respond at length to a Washington Post op-ed in my notebook. It doesn't matter where you're writing or for whom you're writing or what you're writing; you don't develop writing muscles without writing. I think just doing that on my own helped develop argumentative skills that I relied on later.

Q: And you hoped to write for National Review? On a career day they had us fill out a form about where we would be in 10 years and what we would be doing. I said, "Living in New York City and working for National Review." So I've been very blessed in that way-it's all I ever wanted to do, and I've been able to do it.

Q: But first came the University of Virginia . . . When I went there I immediately looked for a Dartmouth Review-style alternative publication, and lo and behold one started my first semester. I became very involved and was the editor of that publication. I'll never run for office just because I don't want to release my transcript. It's horrific. I was spending all my time and energy on the publication, called The Virginia Advocate. It was great: It was basically journalism school in a box, because you had to edit, you had to write, you had to sell advertisements.

Q: So you managed to graduate, and later pick up more basic training? I worked for a local newspaper in Virginia. Everyone was desperately overstretched, which turned out to be a great experience. I would write about PTA meetings, I would write about people's dogs having puppies (there's nothing like a puppy story-puppies sell no matter what). The editor was a tremendous journalistic craftsman; I learned a lot from him. Then an opportunity came up at National Review.

Q: How? I had entered a young writer's contest at National Review shortly after graduating from college. I had forgotten about it because it took them so long to judge the thing-apparently it almost shut down the magazine because there were so many applications. I finished tied for second, so they knew who I was, and I kept badgering them to see if there were any job openings. There was a low-level, intern-type editing position, and I got hired for that.

Q: How often did you badger, and how did you keep it from becoming obnoxious? My natural charm and wit. No, I can't remember the details, but I sent letters in the mail and called people up. Non-obnoxious persistence is the way I'd characterize it from my end. Maybe at the receiving end it was different.

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